Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Are We Doing Wrong with Biofuels?

My friend sent me this article on how biofuels are responsible for a 75% increase in world food prices.

My response: This is what happens when you live in denial for 100 years, and establish an infrastructure around a fuel source that doesn't really "exist" (the sun is the only "real" energy source we have, but that's another discussion). When it starts to run out, everything destabilizes, which is what we are seeing. The obvious choice, which is not always the best choice, is to look for the most accessible, drop-in renewable alternative .

What are doing wrong with biofuels?

1. We're making the wrong fuels.

Ethanol has been the biofuel of choice by many, which is a ridiculous fuel. It takes a lot of energy to distill it, and the resulting fuel has a miserable energy density. There are far better ways to get fuel from plants, unfortunately most are not usable by gasoline cars (see #3)

2. We're making them in a reactive and irresponsible way.
Since we haven't built up an infrastructure that produces biofuels in a responsible and distributive way, the only alternative is to utilize the same resources that have been devoted to producing food. The government is now throwing tons of money at farmers to produce ethanol. If anything, it's easier for them because there are fewer regulations.

3. We're using them incorrectly.
Cars that carry their own power plants (gas/diesel engines) are only about 7% efficient. "Real" energy sources can't be held responsible for producing the amount of energy we traditionally waste. We need electric cars and trucks. Electric vehicles leave the energy conversion process to centralized power plants, where it makes sense to invest the money to make very efficient processing. Furthermore, a wide variety of energy sources can be brought into play, and even mixed, at a powerplant (solar, hydro, petroleum, wind, etc.). This gives you a more flexible infrastructure, so we can be opportunists as different energy sources rise and fall in their availability.

Monday, September 08, 2008

VW Bluemotion Golf for 2009

What do you get when you combine the winning combination of a smaller (1.6L) common-rail turbodiesel engine with a revised ratio 5 speed transmission, and a particulate filter? 74 MPG, and only 99g/km of CO2, thanks to the 2009 VW Golf Bluemotion. This car still has 104 HP (184lb/ft), which is more torque than some gas compact cars have now- and you can bet that those numbers will all but double with a few basic fuel and air mods.

In terms of mileage and emissions, this car puts some hybrids to shame- yet with its simplistic design, it will remain much more affordable (£15,500 starting) than cars with complicated hybrid technology. There is no word as to when this car will be brought to the U.S. (as usual), especially with oil prices dropping again, but at least we can have the comfort of knowing it's out there.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Got a Small Car? Drive Carefully.

If you are the owner of a small, fuel efficient vehicle, here's something you may not have thought about. If you are involved in an accident that ends up totaling your car, you may not get enough insurance money to replace it.

Here's why: When the insurance company "totals" your car (decides it's cheaper to replace it than repair it), they will cut a check for the Blue Book value of the car. But, as the demand for these cars continues to rapidly increase, so does the "street" value (the amount the car is selling for today, on Ebay, for example). Since the Blue Book value of these cars is assessed using a fairly bureaucratic process, this value hasn't been calculated recently enough, and is therefore under the actual cost involved in acquiring an exact replacement.

Cost is only the beginning. The headaches of purchasing a fuel efficient vehicle are many- if you are in the market for a new car, you'll probably end up on a waiting list. When you do finally get your car, you'd better hope it comes the way you like it- because your other option is to wait some more.

If you're buying a used car, watch out. There are plenty of snakes out there who realize the inflated prices of fuel is the opportunity to fleece the public. They'll sell any small car they can get their hands on, knowing that SUV owners are bailing out and looking for something small to drive to work. They will gladly sell a car on its last legs for a few thousand dollars.

The worst case scenario is that you are driving a "banned" car. This includes highly efficient, diesel passenger cars such as the Volkswagen TDI. Despite their ability to achieve mileage in excess of 50 mpg, most of these cars have been banned from new sales due to high nitrous oxide and smog emissions. Replacing these cars will surely be a chore, as they are being retired from the road every day. On top of that, replacement parts are expensive, and knowledgeable labor is extremely hard to find.

The bottom line: drive carefully. Your car may not be insured to the extent you think it is, and even if it is, replacement can be more complicated due to our rapidly changing transportation economy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Got a Samsung SCH-i760? Don't use an external antenna!

If you have a Samsung smartphone, such as the SCH-i730 or SCH-i760, you may or may not be aware that there is an external antenna jack on the back of this phone (you have to pop off a small round cap to see it).

It is possible to use this jack to plug in an external cell phone antenna - an incredibly convenient option for road warriors who can't afford to drop calls when traveling through spotty areas, etc. However, I have this cautionary tale to share with you.

This is the 3rd time I have had my cell phone replaced because the internal antenna performance degrade to almost nothing. It started with my Samsung SCH-i730, and then when I upgraded to the SCH-i760, it happened twice. I have decided that the issue is likely one of the following:

1. Samsung makes a flaky and weak connector, which breaks the internal antenna connection when used (doesn't really make sense, as the external antenna still works)

2. I have been unlucky enough to get 3 defective phones (yeah, right.)

3. The external antenna is BURNING OUT the internal antenna, due to a design problem with the Samsung phones.

4. The internal antenna is BURNING OUT, due to a design problem with the external antenna.

In circumstance 3 & 4, a little bit of radio theory applies here: When you plug in an external antenna, it doesn't take the internal one out of the circuit. Rather, the 2 antennae are in parallel, and untuned. This creates a high SWR (standing wave ratio) situation that the fragile internal antenna (probably a just a "coil" drawing on a circuit board) can't handle.

If this is the case, Verizon should do a better job of notifying users that this jack is for the testing bench only, and not for use with an external antenna. After all, it's pretty easy to come by an aftermarket adapter that fits this jack, advertised for use with an external antenna. Verizon sales people will not warn you against using this jack with an external antenna.

It could be a problem specific to my external antenna, but when searching I found 2 posts indicating others have had this problem:

Post #1
Post #2

Finally, I just found a blog post with a definitive link to a faq on Samsung's website about this. The jack is not for use with an external antenna!

Monday, June 09, 2008

GM Decides to Use Radical "Turbo" Technology to Make Fuel Efficient Car

GM has always answered the call for more horsepower by trying to find ways to shoehorn bigger engines in their large cars and trucks. For some reason, this wasteful practice has made Americans happy, as long as the fuel prices were low. However, now that its pickup and SUV sales have been obscured by a new demand for fuel efficient cars, GM finally has decided that it might be a good idea to give Americans a 120-140 horsepower vehicle, that still gets over 40 mpg!

Why wasn't this vehicle developed when gas was $2.00 something a gallon, and had every indication that there was no end in sight? Heck, why hasn't this vehicle existed for years as an American car choice?

Because the technology didn't exist? Wrong. Consumers of foreign manufactured autos have enjoyed lightweight, fuel efficient, and fast sport compact cars for years. How do they do it?

Turbochargers: They have been in use for over 80 years. By forcing air into the engine, power output can be significantly raised, or fuel efficiency, or both.

Why are GM and other American car manufacturers only now giving conservation-minded Americans the option of cake + eat? Because our economy has never rewarded anyone, manufacturer or consumer, for making fuel efficient choices. The only check built into our economy is the cost of gas.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Electric cars coming to the rescue in 2 years or less (No thanks to America)

Foreign auto manufacturers such as Nissan and Mitsubishi have responded to high oil prices by making small, 100% electric cars, slated for release in Japan (and even the U.S., in Nissan's case) by 2010.

GM has responded to high oil prices by closing 4 plants, laying off 30,000 workers, and leaving dealerships all over the nation to try to sell the Chevy Volt hybrid, with a $40,000 price tag.

Reportedly, the Th!nk City EV, now owned by a Norwegian company, will be coming back to the U.S in 2009. The car was originally developed by Ford, and dumped as part of its 2002 total abandonment of the electric car venture.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Prius - Now Getting (your favorite number of) Miles Per Gallon!

The other night, a friend asked me what I would do to make a car that got 100-something miles per gallon. This is a perfect example of how that question can be answered in a number of ways. This Prius has been outfitted with new technology LiFePO4 batteries, and has been recorded achieving 125+ mpg.

Having better batteries means it can use more stored power before having to run the engine. While this is an improvement in city driving, on the highway commute this vehicle will be right back to 40mpg. Even the best batteries will be exhausted fairly quickly and the engine will end up running for the remainder of the trip.

Claims that the Prius achieves 499 MPG could be made just as easily and accurately if they measured the mileage on 1 mile test drive on a totally flat road, with no engine start or braking occurring. As far as I know, there is still no standard course for measuring these claims, and most of the time, no one understands the science well enough to question them.

I'm not trying to shoot down Toyota's efforts at making a more efficient car. In a sense, they have done this. However, as usual, press releases never seem to detail the nature of the improvements made, only the part everyone wants to hear. I suppose this is why I never made it in marketing.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bob Lutz: Leading the American Race for Capitalist Gluttony

Have you ever wondered exactly how America gets its reputation for driving oversized vehicles without any regard for the environment or fuel costs? Because people like Bob Lutz are behind the wheel of the largest American motor company: GM. We all know that GM is company that's as "American as apple pie."

Here's a timeline of events for you.

2004: Bob Lutz thinks that Hybrid cars make no sense. Quote:
"Hybrids are an interesting curiosity and we will do some," he said. "But do they make sense at $1.50 a gallon? No, they do not."
Understanding interaction between national and global economy: FAIL
Effectiveness at developing strategies that look more than 1-2 years out : FAIL

2005-2007: GM continues to bring products to market that it thinks will be good for America.

This includes pukemobiles such as:

The Chevy Suburban 2WD Z71
GMC Envoy Denali/Envoy XL Denali.
The Chevy TrailBlazer EXT
*and don't forget*
The Hummer H3

They are shoved in the face of Americans by GM via advertising on billboards, TV, and internet. GM makes so many of them that they are sold for next to nothing.

February, 2008: Bob Lutz thinks global warming is a "Total Crock of Shit"

March, 2008: Not making a hybrid car like the Prius was a "mistake"
No kidding.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Why iTunes Sucks: Reason #22

Alternative posting title - iTunes and Sucking in Harmony

This is in reference to of a (very dated) Mac Observer posting 21 Reasons Why iTunes Sucks . iTunes is continuing a long standing tradition of sucking!

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I have had dealings with . I gave my wife a gift certificate for, proud of myself for my having a gift that pleased to her affinity for books on CD. However, what I didn't realize was that I was really giving her a gift of PAIN.

We figured (naively) that this day and age, it would be a fairly common, and therefore simple(!) process - choose an audio book on, and burn it to CD, so she could enjoy the book in her car. Seems like a reasonable request, based on the following assumptions:
  1. Most people use audio books during their commute.
  2. Most cars, last I checked, come "standardly" equipped with CD players, unless you get some kind of "option"
  3. I haven't checked on this, but I'm pretty sure has got to be the #1 audio book seller
  4. As a matter of survival, must have a need to provide their product to consumers with CD players, right?
Well, as it turns out they probably do, but for whatever reason (and I'm sure DRM has something to do with it), it's a ridiculous process to get this to happen.
  1. Download manager software
  2. Install manager software
  3. Download the item with's manager software
  4. Download iTunes
  5. Install iTunes
  6. EXPORT the item to iTunes from manager
  7. Open up iTunes
  8. Create a playlist containing the item
  9. Burn the playlist to CD
  10. Yes, I know this 8 hour audio file won't fit on 1 CD. Please burn to multiple CD's. (wow, iTunes makes everything so SIMPLE!)
  11. Insert new blank CD
  12. Wait for CD to burn
  13. Go to step 11 until done.
Ok, so that's the process. Great, it's ugly and ridiculous. BUT- to complicate things even further, the process was interrupted by a power failure. after burning disk 4 of the 8 disc set. Which finally brings us to

Reason #22 why iTunes sucks:

No way to "resume" a multiple-disc-burn in iTunes.

What you can do about it
-Start over from disc 1 and toss the extra discs

-(if tossing away good CD-Rs isn't your thing) burn the "done" discs onto a single CD-RW, erasing them on a different computer each time, until you get to the disc you left off at.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Golf Diesel Hybrid for Everyone Except Us

As usual, some new, cool car technology is being developed which the U.S. will likely be (at best) the last to take advantage of. This time it's a diesel hybrid by VW. The diesel hybrid is not a new concept, but this will be one of the first production cars to incorporate it.

The fact is, diesel cars are awesome in so many ways. They are powerful, efficient, clean, and can be run on 100% renewable fuel with ZERO modification. Many other countries have embraced diesel vehicles. So why do they have such a hard time in the U.S.?

They are perceived by most to be "loud and smelly," to quote the Wired article. I will add that from my observations, people think they are dirty and underpowered. Now let's do some myth busting, shall we?

Myth: Diesels cars are Loud
Fact: Diesel trucks are loud. Old diesel anythings were often loud. My diesel is loud (since I riced out my exhaust system). But "Diesels" are not loud, at least not significantly louder than any gas car.

Myth: Diesel cars are smelly.
Fact: Catalytic converters shipped on current VWs produce a smell that is milder and more natural than the exhaust of a gas car.

Myth: Diesel cars are underpowered.
Fact: Some of them are underpowered (as with any car made), but especially so in the U.S. Often they are purposely power-castrated in order to meet the ridiculous Nitrous Oxide standards the cars are held to, which is all the California Emissions Nazis care about. Read on.

Myth: Diesel cars have terrible emissions.
Fact: Diesel hybrids could be used "in Europe to address tightening emissions regulations" (Quote from Wired Article). Diesels are very low emitters of CO2, which is what we should be focusing on.

Myth: Diesel cars can't/don't do what popular hybrids can, in order to address rising fuel costs and dwindling resources.
Fact: Under many conditions, regular (non-hybrid) diesel cars achieve the same average efficiency as hybrids such as the Prius and Civic (think 45-65 MPG). Now just think what these cars can do as hybrids. If that's not enough, check this out: diesels are the only vehicles that can be run on a 100% renewable fuel, OUT-OF-THE-BOX, with ZERO modifications!

So, I could go on, but like millions of other frustrated diesel fanatics, I think I've made my point. What is it going to take to get the point across to the masses?

The answer is simple.

First, let's look at some of the other simple crap that was used to convince people they need SUVs - which is what got us into this mess in the first place.

(special thanks to , with an awesome commentary on this particular commercial)

So I say, how about one of those hippy-dippy, white backgrounded, "think-different" commercials on a Hollywood trash channel that goes something like this: (Late 20-something, fashionably dressed woman with a British accent, standing in front of new diesel car)
"Diesels aren't smelly, loud or dirty anymore. They're fast, clean, and most importantly, your European fashion heroes are all driving them right now. Diesel: it's the new black!"
(Usual voice-over, phone number and website URL, financing percentages, etc. fade onto the screen.)

Or how about this: (Snoop-dogg standing in front of new diesel car)
"Y'all better be gettin' up on some of Deeeeeeezul-nuts."
(Usual voice-over, phone number and website URL, financing percentages, etc. fade onto the screen.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Want to cancel your membership? You'll have to call them

It all started when I got my wife a gift certificate to for Christmas.

So I'm not really sure how it happened, but at some point in the last few months, I ended up with a premium audible listener membership, billed at a rate of $23 a month. I suppose it's possible that I did an impulse purchase, but that's neither here nor there in this discussion.

I finally got logged in to the point where I could edit my account details (long story, but basically I had to clear my cookies due to the fact that it kept dumping me right back to the step of "confirming a purchase" I had apparently started - months later). In the account details control panel:

There didn't appear to be any way to cancel my membership.

There didn't appear to be any way to remove my credit card information from my account.

After I pretty much resolved and mentally prepared for the fact this was going to involve a phone call (which to me instantly involves long hold times with bad music, explaining, and convincing, not to mention finding the back door on the website that has the cust. srvc. phone #).

To my surprise, the phone # was easily located on the site, and the phone call went directly to a human. Once I was on with someone, he canceled my membership, refunded my last month's charge, and removed my credit card info from my account. It was a relatively painless experience, actually.

The only way it could have been easier is if I didn't have to call them in the first place.

Monday, March 03, 2008

FAIL: The Snowdrift 2000

I'm sure everyone has thought about trying this at some point, right? Come on, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Fix for X-Lite -> Asterisk DTMF issue

If you use X-Lite with an Asterisk system, as I do, you may notice DTMF codes sometimes don't work after the call has been placed. This results in difficulty when entering pin codes, dialing an extension on another system, etc.

Here's the quick fix inside X-Lite:

Go to menu -> Advanced System Settings -> DTMF Settings

-Change to DTMF Force Send In Band: Yes
-Change to DTMF Tone Length in Samples: 4960

Reconnect the call and try it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Welcome From FreshUbuntu Podcast

Just wanted to post a shout out to anyone visiting from the FreshUbuntu podcast!

As Harlem mentioned, I have been working on putting together some theme music. The first track I sent over was actually a draft of the title track that will be on my upcoming demo album, called "6 Inches From the Curb". Most of the music on that album will be original jazz and funk, and will feature "solo bass" work (to be clear, solo in the sense that the tracks are predominantly drums and bass guitar, with little or no other instruments). My goal for this demo is to practice my new skills with multitrack production, and to demonstrate my musical concepts to musicians I will collaborate with on future projects (stay tuned!)

The tune was a little rough - I have decided to put together something more reflective of my skills, and more specific to podcast use. Tune into the next FreshUbuntu to hear it!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rant on G-mail's Supposed "Send Mail As" Feature

Gmail: In development for over
4.109578 years (and counting)

Despite my having sworn off third-party e-mail providers, I broke down and moved my e-mail account to Gmail recently. I was under the impression I could make the transition without anyone noticing that I was even using Gmail. I set up my personal address to forward to my Gmail account, and then set up the Gmail "Send Mail As" feature to send mail from my personal address.

As many users have found out, this is not as seamless as Google makes it out to be. This has been bothering me as well. Gmail doesn't change the sender address, only the reply-to address. Apparently this is because mail coming from a Gmail server (and thus being different from the sender domain) has a tendency to trip spam filters.

I did find this note at the bottom of the Gmail instructions:
" Note: when you're sending with a different 'From:' address, your Gmail address will still be included in your email header's sender field, to help prevent your mail from being marked as spam. Most email clients don't display the sender field, though some versions of Microsoft Outlook may display "From on behalf of"
In practice, contrary to the above note's claim, all of the e-mail clients I have experience with just show the message to be from . A reply is sent to your custom From: address, but this doesn't really help you much. In fact it's really just more confusing to the end user, as they deal with 2 different e-mail addresses when replying to you. Not to mention it's your Gmail address that gets auto-added to their address

What should Gmail do? They should do as the feature name suggests, change the From: address and let me worry about the spam ramifications of that. I am the true owner of the domain I am trying to send from, and I can create an SPF record which will show Gmail as a valid mail host for messages coming from my address.

Hm... what should I expect from a "Beta" service? Gee, when(ever) Gmail is done it's going to be a good product.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

My Godaddy Hosting Cancellation Survey

When I cancelled my Godaddy Virtual Server, they asked me to fill out a cancellation survey. Here's what I wrote:

1. I had my virtual server with godaddy for several years. The whole time, the machine suffered from lag. This was evident as a delay when serving web pages, using Plesk to administer the machine, and severe (at times up to 20 seconds) latency when typing over SSH. I opened a ticket about this and was told it must be my connection. Apparently it wasn't, as the new service I am using doesn't have this problem.

2. SMTP - The godaddy mail relays are constantly DNS blacklisted because many of the servers are being used to send spam. I opened a ticket about this and no one got back to me. Can't really blame them.

3. While Plesk made administration easy, it was extremely slow and prevented me from being able to install other programs or keep the machine up to date with package tools, such as yum.

4. There is no OS upgrade path without having to reprovision the server.

5. I found a better deal - not the least of which is cheaper, faster, better administration tools, and an SLA that doesn't cater to spammers.